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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Choosing a Painting Medium

While acrylics and oils are virtually indistinguishable when dry,
watercolors are distinctly different.
Few artists are conscious of it, but the media you choose, the type of paint you push, the carbon source with which you make your lines, the messy stuff you form into sculpture, or the method you use to photograph the world, are all a reflection of your individual personality. (Keep in mind, I'm going to be talking about imperfect stereotypes in discussing this so what I say is not valid 100 percent of time.) Take painters, for example, there are watercolor people, there are oil people, and there are acrylic people. The watercolor artist tends to be something of a free spirit. Winslow Homer is a typical example (below). They are adventurous, spontaneous, fun-loving, risk-takers, sometimes rather "flighty", but very often some of the most prolific and most creative painters to be found. Watercolor might be considered "extreme" art, akin to skydiving.
Winslow Homer is considered the "dean" of American watercolor artists as seen in his The Blue Boat from 1892. His personality also corresponded to that of the stereotypical watercolor artist.
The Madonna and Child, 1283-84,
Duccio, egg tempera.
The oil painter is thoughtful. Jan van Eyck might be considered the model in this case (below). He or she likes to contemplate their work at length. Leonardo da Vinci is said to have sometimes stared for hours at a nearly finished work before adding just one single stroke. Oil painters love the slow drying time, allowing them to consider, reconsider, then re-reconsider before going back to what they had in the first place. Before there was oil painting there was something called egg tempera, literally dry pigments mixed into fresh egg yolk and applied with tiny brushes in thin, rapidly drying, transparent layers in order to color an image. Errors were difficult (if not impossible) to correct. Even a small painting could take months. Oils were a godsend. The Medieval Italian painter, Duccio, painted his 1283-84 The Madonna and Child (left) using egg tempera with gold leaf.

The Flemish painter, Jan van Eyck, was one of the first Europeans to master oil
painting as seen in what may be a self-portrait from around 1433.

Willem de Kooning, 1982
Acrylic painters are kind of a combination of the two types. Here, think Willem de Kooning (below). Acrylics are extremely versatile. I've often said that acrylics make better watercolors than watercolors. I paint almost exclusively with acrylics so there's some bias here. Very often, I paint with them transparently on canvas, though not as freely as I might in using watercolors on paper. By the same token, if I want, I can layer them on in rich, thick layers with no worry about their cracking or chipping for hundreds of years. This choice of media reflects the fact that I can sometimes be a "wild and crazy guy" but more often something of a fussy, nitpicking, recluse second guessing my own second guesses. Acrylics allow me to do this with relative impunity. Sometimes I hate the rapid drying time, while at other times I curse the few minutes, even seconds they consume in becoming dry enough not to inadvertently stain my fist or smear a newly painted area. Acrylics also have in common with watercolors the fact that the learning curve in the beginning can be quite steep.
Willem de Kooning was one of the first American painters to use acrylic
paints extensively as here is his Metaphor #1 from the early 1950s.

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